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This August, Mariah Carey took to Instagram to announce the launch of her own line of liquor, Black Irish. “Two years in the making…Truly a cause for celebration,” she exclaimed to her 10.4 million followers. Though many “lambs” surely shared in her excitement, few could have been entirely surprised by the news. Celebrities are all over the spirits space these days. In fact, it seems like every week another singer, or actor, or athlete is getting into the game.
Carey’s entry was nevertheless noteworthy for the specific sort of spirit she was now representing. Named in honor of her mixed heritage (she was born to a Black-Venezuelan father and an Irish mother), Black Irish is a cream liqueur. Bob Dylan has a whiskey, Ryan Reynolds has a gin, Lebron James has a tequila, and these are all rapidly expanding categories. But according to the latest data from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, sales of liqueurs are actually on the decline.
If there’s anyone who can, ahem, carry it to the top of the charts, it’s the woman who has more number one hits than any other solo artist in music history. Furthermore, it’s a liquid with a flavor profile fit for the holiday season—a time of year practically synonymous with Carey (she returns to the Billboard Hot 100 annually for her modern yuletide classic, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”).
Rolling Stone sat down with the five-time Grammy winner to get a better sense of what she wants for Christmas and how cream liqueur ended up on her wishlist.
Your success has spanned multiple decades. Speak to any two different fans and you’re likely to get two different albums cited as their favorite—perhaps even two separate eras. If you were going to compare original Black Irish to any work in your oeuvre, which album would it be, and why?
You are totally right—people connect with something different in each album, which is part of the fun of putting out music. It really warms my heart when I hear how people connect with certain songs in their own special way. When I launched Black Irish, my goal was to, similarly, share a product that was special to me that people could connect to in their own way—whether it’s making new traditions or a unique cocktail. It would be impossible for me to pick just one album to represent it. But, if you love Butterfly, you will be happy to know that we included a butterfly logo on Black Irish bottles which was a really special and personal touch for me.
Was that a personal request when the bottle was being designed?
I had so much fun designing the bottle and including the butterfly because it really feels like an extension of my personality. I love that it’s subtle, so people may not even realize it when they first pick it up.
Irish Cream is an interesting category to enter the spirits space with. It’s not something that’s as well known as say, vodka, or tequila. Aside from your heritage, is there anything else about this particular style that resonates with you?
You definitely see a lot of new wine, vodka and tequila in the space, but that type of liquor has never been my thing. I’ve always had a sweet tooth! Plus, during the holidays Irish cream cocktails have always been a staple for me with so many great memories made over a spiked hot chocolate—or two! When I had the idea for Black Irish, it felt like a way to create a new part of that Christmas magic.
Are there any types of liquor that you just won’t touch or had a bad experience with at some point? When I was growing up, I had a “gincident”, where I raided my parents liquor cabinet and ended up having too much of a certain London Dry Gin. What would be your equivalent “gincident”?
Oh gosh, who hasn’t?! Like I said, I have never really been into the taste of hard liquor so I try to stay away from them, which luckily means I have not had a “gincident.” But I love the name!
How do you like to enjoy Black Irish? Do you have a special cocktail that you’ve been working it into?
Black Irish is amazing on the rocks – especially the Salted Caramel [expression] – but I do love all of the flavors in a classic cocktail like Irish Coffee or an Espresso Martini.
How would you describe the drinking experience/taste profile?
Drinking Black Irish is like a celebration in a cup, it just feels so festive. I made sure only the highest-quality ingredients were used, so expect a sweet but smooth sip. There is almost an underlying coffee flavor to it, which is why it pairs so well with espresso.
Describe the ideal setting for sipping on Irish Cream. Paint the scene.
Have you ever been on a sleigh ride through the snow with all of your loved ones? It’s probably the most magical moment to experience a Black Irish cocktail. I feel so lucky that I get to do that with my family this year. But Black Irish isn’t just for holidays. The ideal setting is wherever and whenever you need a cause for celebration.
Black Irish launched with three distinct flavors. Did you have hand in choosing them? What is Mariah Carey like when working on a tasting panel?
Absolutely! It was such a great experience to be so hands-on during all parts of the process while bringing this brand to life. I love Salted Caramel and White Chocolate, so those flavors felt like a natural fit. You may not believe it, but I am very serious when I’m in work mode! We put so much into sourcing ingredients and working on different formulas.
How are you planning to celebrate the holiday season this year?
Traditionally, my family takes a trip to Aspen every year. Experiencing a white Christmas means so much and the kids get to ski and snowboard down the mountain. We have actual reindeer there and the house is all decorated. It is everything I wanted as a kid and didn’t have the opportunity to experience, so I’m thankful to be able to give that to my kids.